The Deep End of the Pool

Universally, the first day of summer camp includes a swim test. For the safety of everyone the adults needs to know who can swim and who can’t.

Those who can swim can go into the deep end while those who can’t need to learn.

We need to teach our students to swim

As Jon and I began working on the Good News in the Neighborhood curriculum we agreed on a driving principle: Our curriculum cannot be prescriptive. It sickens me that so many curriculums dumb things down to “3 easy steps to application.” I hate the “easy” lie in ministry stuff. As if following Jesus were easy? As if becoming Good News in your neighborhood were going to be easy? It’s not, as we describe in the introduction… if you take the task of walking with Jesus seriously, you’re life will get jacked. 

One of the great failures of the church is the silent driving force of dependency. We’ve made one of the core things we teach that we need to keep coming to church in order to grow. That’s keeping students and adults in the shallow end with their floaties on. So, as the line of reasoning goes, to step into “pseudo maturity” you have to become more and more involved (read dependent) on the ministry of your local church. Whereas, that might be the case for some people– but for the vast majority of people, a sign of maturity would be less dependency on the ministry of the church. Consequently, worship services primary focus has become teaching stuff you’ll never be held accountable to apply instead of celebrating what God is doing in our collective.

The Push

Instead of keeping students in the shallow end and dependent on our teaching we need to push some students into the deep end of the pool. (So we can better invest our time on people who can’t actually swim!) Sometimes, at least in my ministry, I’ve had students who grew up in the church, who won every Awana award, who come from great families. And I want to tell them the truth… the best way for you to mature in your relationship with Jesus is not to be a part of youth group but to apply all of that stuff to your life! You’re competent, now get out.

Conversely, one of the biggest things holding students back is that we let them come back to the shallow end of the pool forever without ever forcing them to apply what they’ve learned. (And what does that say about their parents? Are they hanging out in the shallow end after 30 years of walking with Jesus?)

No more mommies

As we move forward with youth ministry into our next 50 years, I’m hoping we drop the mommy stance. “Oh sweetie, stay in the shallow end as long as you want. Lots of people wear floaties forever.


It’s time to kick that stance to the curb. If we really want to see our ministries become Good News in our context… we need to push the people who are ready into the deep end as the most loving thing we can do. Go, swim, let’s celebrate your success in the deep end.

Wanna flip the script? Let’s give them a swim test and if they pass, banish them from the shallow end of the pool for a while.

photo credit: West Point Public Affairs via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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6 responses to “The Deep End of the Pool”

  1. Dan Murfey Avatar
    Dan Murfey

    Preach it brother!!!

  2. Ben Read Avatar

    Our biggest struggle is that our students aren’t ready for the deep end yet. In Boston, their schools are the deep end compared to most in the mid west, but were still trying to build our students up with enough of a foundation to not have to hide the fact they are christians on campus.

    Were hoping to use your new curriculum this summer, I love the thoughts behind it and am right there.

  3. Hannah Adams Ingram Avatar

    Neat idea, but what are you suggesting? I know there’s no prescriptive answer for everyone… I’m just looking for an example of what it might look like to “banish someone from the shallow end” for awhile. 

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      An example could be: A mature sophomore, one you really love and loves your ministry, comes to you with a problem. His soccer coach has approached him about being the captain of the JV team and if it goes well, he can see him becoming the captain of the varsity his next 2 years. The rub? He’ll have to give up a leadership role in the youth group and only come to church on Sunday during soccer season. 

      Pushing him to the deep end would be to say, “Wow, what a cool opportunity to put your faith in action. I love it, go for it. Let’s try to check in every once in a while, I’d love to hear how God is using you.” 

      Keeping him in the shallow end would be, “Gosh, that sounds really cool. But we really need you in our youth ministry. I hope you’ll consider supporting our ministry over soccer.” 

      Does that make sense? It’s a posture of releasing mature students to go and make an impact right now. I feel like this is an issue of competency.

  4. Ben Read Avatar

    Also, Can I say it’d be nice if more Youth Organizations got into the deep end and quit doing events only in safe places? When was the last time Boston had any sort of Youth Conference come through? Dallas and Atlanta are already churched up enough. (random place for a mini rant)

    1. Adam McLane Avatar

      @BenjaminRead:disqus are you in Boston? If so, hit me up via email. I’m not afraid of Boston.

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